Vasyl Andreyev is the president of the Construction and Building Materials Workers Union of Ukraine (PROFBUD), which brings together over 60 000 workers. PROFBUD is an active player in the Ukrainian labour movement, which is currently facing enormous challenges with the new government proposal on labour reform. Vasyl Andreyev was part of the delegation of the Ukrainian trade unions to Brussels on 22-23 of January 2020 to bring the situation in the country to the attention of European and International institutions and identify additional possibilities to escalate the campaign against the government labour reform.
Could you please tell us about the Brussels meetings of Ukrainian trade unions and the main results?
Our delegation met with representatives of the ITUC, ETUC, ILO ACTRAV and officials of the EU External Relations Service (EEAS), the Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (DG EMP), and the Support Group for Ukraine at the European Commission. There was also a meeting in the European Parliament. Once again, we received strong support from the international trade union movement and identified additional possibilities to use European and International mechanisms to increase pressure on the Ukrainian government to withdraw the reform. I do not want to detail our plans, however.
What were the key topics that you discussed with the officials in Brussels?
First of all, we stressed that the proposed labour laws violate international labour standards and Ukraine’s obligations under chapter 21 of the European Association Agreement. We also argued that the Ukrainian government does not provide any clear explanations regarding expected results of the proposed reform. We based our discussions on our detailed analysis of the draft laws.
Currently, the mainstream mass media is focusing on the labour law, but amendments to the trade union law are not very visible. Could you please tell us more about the trade union law?
Amendments to the trade union law include provisions limiting trade union collective bargaining rights to national and company levels. It would eliminate trade union guarantees at company level and end the government obligation to consider the trade union position when social-economic and labour laws are developed. It also limits trade union organizing capacities as it requires a minimum of 10 workers to formally establish a trade union organization (instead of 3 workers in the current law), and, limits the number of trade union organizations at the company level. Finally, the law considers trade union property to be state property. In short, this law has provisions to kill trade unions in Ukraine.
It is well known that trade unions were not involved in the process of the development of these draft laws. What does the government say about this, and what is the trade union response?
During the last year, trade unions received information that the government with the help of “experts” started to develop the new law. Independent trade unions were not among the “experts” and were not even consulted on the text. We tried to make our voices heard regarding the need to have open dialogue on laws of such importance to workers. We organized several public actions to attract the attention of the government. For example, PROFBUD organized a rally on the 7th of October 2019 in the centre of Kiev to demand dialogue and ensure fair labour reform. I want to emphasize that we are not against labour reform, but we are against unfair labour reforms which are only in the interests of big capital and oligarchs.
How did government respond to trade union actions and calls to start open dialogue?
Unfortunately, government was deaf to our calls and went ahead and submitted the draft laws. We continued our protests with new energy. Protests happened not only in Kiev, but also in different regions where workers blocked the roads and called on local authorities to support their demands. We clearly understand that if these laws pass, it would be a disaster for every worker and for society in general. I should also say that, in response to our actions, the government started a public campaign attacking trade unions and promoting the new labour law as the “best care for workers”. We also started a broad public awareness campaign to explain to workers what this “best care” means.
In your opinion, what are the main risks for workers?
There are so many, so it is hard to identify the main ones. I would highlight the possibility for the employer to dismiss workers without justification and with short notification (possibly “day by day”) or with financial compensation rather than prior notification. This would leave workers alone unprotected in unfair dismissal situations (for example, because of religion or gender) and make our anti-discrimination legislation in the labour field useless. There are many other issues on working time, long working hours and wages. And with such a restricted labour law, the government also wants to limit workers’ freedom of association.
Is there any specific impact of the labour reform for workers in the construction and building materials sectors?
In the construction sector, we have a very high level of informal employment. According to the government “propaganda” the new law would create 1 million formal workplaces in the economy. In my opinion, this is just a populist statement from the government as there are no incentives for employers to create new formal workplaces. What would happen, instead, is that workers who have permanent employment contracts would have them replaced with short-term contracts or zero-hours’ contracts. This would make the whole construction sector precarious.
And what is about trade union rights in the construction and building materials sectors?
I should say that, first of all, it is not about trade union rights, it is about worker rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining. Over 60000 workers in the construction and building materials sectors would have their rights to negotiate CBAs on national and company level limited; workers would experience additional restrictions in organizing and splits would be encouraged with the creation of new organizations. We should not forget that freedom of association and collective bargaining are fundamental workers’ rights protected by ILO Conventions. So, we will continue our fight for labour and trade union rights.